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  • A Sense of Community: The Strawberry Festival

    Local Historians: Kathryn Jordan and Olivia Shaw


    The Strawberry Festival was without a doubt one of the most highly anticipated activities in Wayland in the decades following World War II. Beginning in the late forties, the Strawberry Festival boomed with the Wayland population. Wayland, which had once been a rural farming town populated with farmhouses and summer homes to some of Boston's elite, was now becoming a family-oriented suburban town. Houses and schools could barely be built fast enough to accommodate the increasing demand to live in Wayland. The Strawberry Festival attendance reflected this by almost quadrupling from 1957 to 2,500 people in 1959. It was the quintessentially 1950's community event; a time to gather and celebrate the arrival of summer and community members' good company.

    The Strawberry Festival took weeks of preparation; dozens of volunteers were necessary to harvest the strawberries, organize games, sell tickets (for only 75!), publicize the event, and of course, count votes for the Strawberry Festival Queen. The festival, which was always held the last weekend in June, took place at the 1935 high school field and in later years the current high school. In the event of rain, the proceedings were brought into the field house. The typical Strawberry Festival schedule consisted of games and snacks in the early afternoon followed by an abundant quantity of food, which evolved from strawberry sundaes to a more barbeque-style supper. In the evening the Girl Scouts hosted a square dancing exhibition that families could later join. At about 8:30 the Strawberry Festival Queen was announced. At this time many parents brought their children to babysitters back at home while they returned for adult square dancing from nine to one in the morning!

    The crowning of the Strawberry Festival Queen was the most anticipated event of the night. Beginning in the mid-50s, five lucky high school girls were nominated and in the weeks leading up to the festival, Wayland residents could mail in their votes for the nominee they thought deserved to be the next Strawberry Festival Queen.

    In the weeks prior to the Festival, the nominees appeared in the newspaper to help with publicity for the festival. The Queen definitely attracted teenage attendance at the festival and was the hot topic both before and after the festival. Long-time resident Catherine Regan remembers "During the early Wayland Strawberry Festival era, the Wayland girls had an edge. Finally it took the brains of the guys who owned a food store in town to decide they had some control. They asked their customers to consider someone from Cochituate. One of my sisters was Queen that year." By 1959, the crowning was even shown on television by a local news station! The nominees crossed the high school field in a pink chariot and the reigning queen crowned the new season's royalty.

    The Wayland Junior Town House sponsored the Strawberry Festival and all the profits made were then given to this organization, which was responsible for all children's recreation. Girls and Boys Scouts met at the house and sports were organized at the house; it was absolutely the hub of activities for kids who were growing more and more numerous in the demogarphic boom of the decade. The Junior Town House sponsored dancing classes, Team Canteens, musical instrument lessons, and even the kindergarten! Most of the Junior Town House projects, like the Strawberry Festival, eventually became self-supporting by the mid-70s.

    As the times changed and the late 1970's rolled around, the Strawberry Festival lost its popularity and quickly slipped out of Wayland tradition. In the twenty-five years that the festival existed, it epitomized the feeling of community at the time. During WWII, communities were brought together to help the war effort. After the war ended, American towns were able to celebrate their community in a more jubilant way. The Strawberry Festival was a classic 1950's community event; neighbors had barbeques before heading to the festival and parents took turns watching their friends' children so all the adults could participate in the late-night square dancing. The Strawberry Festival brought together Wayland families and helped mold the feeling of community in Wayland in an era that now seems quaint by our 21st century standards.



    Interview with Mrs. Joanne Davis (May 2005)

    "I'm Olivia Shaw and this is Kathryn Jordan and we are interviewing Mrs. Davis today on May 16, 2005 at the Grout Heard House and you may begin."

    Well you can see from these Town Criers how the Strawberry Festival started as the "gamble on the green" as it was called. Later it was called Strawberry Festival where they served strawberries, but the initial ones didn't even have strawberries. If you interview Roz Kingsbury be sure and ask her to tell you about how back in the earliest days she fixed the strawberries...they bought huge quantities of strawberries and fixed them and she said something like, "my hands were red for days." But by the time I was doing the Strawberry Festival in 1959 we just went to the store and bought huge quantities of frozen strawberries. It was much easier. And back in those days it was very much accustomed to have someone in your neighborhood to be collecting for the Red Cross or the Heart Fund or something of that sort, so we used the very same approach and we found someone from all the neighborhoods all over Wayland to go around and sell the tickets...now I can't remember how much they were sold for, but the ticket sales were a large part of the funds we raised. There was square dancing at night, but by the time I was doing it in 1959, the biggest deal was bringing the children in the afternoon for a lot of the kind of penny toss or fish for something or hit-a-ball; the kind of games that you're probably very familiar with from your elementary school fairs.

    "Yes, the Fun Fair."

    And at that point I don't know if there were school fairs or not, but this was the big event. People brought their children and they paid a little bit to pay for games. And somebody went to Boston and bought huge quantities of little inexpensive, very inexpensive trinkets, which you gave out as prizes. So the idea was that at least the little kids always got a prize. The strawberries were always a strawberry sundae. I do remember somebody came and was very disappointed that we weren't serving strawberry shortcake...it was just ice cream and strawberries. By that time, you could pick up a supper with hamburgers and hotdogs so some people did that. And in the evening, there was a square dance caller; I can't remember who it was... I do remember that we worked very hard, the town was growing and when we sent the money to the bank night deposit, the person that had gone with the policeman, came back with an absolutely beaming face; She said, "Do you know that we made $3000?" That might not seem much now, but it was an enormous amount then and it all went to the town house. I can't remember... I guess I told you about the queens...basically the publicity thing. And everybody voted for them by writing in their votes.

    "Were they all high school students?"

    They were high school and it must have been nominated by votes... I don't remember. I was general chairman so various people worked jobs like the games...I just don't remember. Ask Roz if they had a queen back when she was doing it...I suspect not. I think it was something that started about the time when I was doing it.

    "It looked there were about five or six nominees too."

    Yeah, but they're all later except for that 1959 one.

    "Could people from the other towns vote?"

    Yes, but I don't think that was the big deal. Although there was, as I told you, some people got their relatives out of town to send a postcard to vote. I think the big story about the Strawberry Festival, and I hope you touch on it, is the Wayland Junior Town House. You've got to think that back then there was just no recreational activities for kids; there's no little league, there's no after school. There were Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, but not much else. The Town House was started to give small amounts of money to make activities. They started small...the things that nobody was doing.There was no kindergarten in town, in fact there was no public kindergarten until 1969, I'm afraid. So they ran a kindergarten. When we started here, they ran two classes.Something like forty one children and one was a pre-school and one was a kindergarten, but later, and ask Roz Kingsbury about this, they ran them in several churches: they ran it in the Trinitarian Congregational Church, the Luthran Church, the Methodist Church. They had two or three classes in each one.She would know how many classes they ran, but they ran the kindergarten for years and years and people paid to send their children, but it took funding, you know, to just get it off the ground.I want you to read about instrumental music in here because it wasn't funded by the town. Kids could take instrumental music by paying $0.25 a week for instruction and $0.25 a week to pay for the rental of the instrument. It tells you they sponsored dancing classes, team canteens.The town crier grew out of this. People have had... I'll show you the Bugle later, but during World War II, townspeople just volunteered to send a newspaper every two weeks to the service free and people had all the town meetings and people liked having it. So afterwards, the Town House got this [Town Crier]...and I think people paid for it, but it didn't begin to fund.And they continued paying for it. Here's a sentence that really should be in bold for you. Their philosophy was we'll start a project, when it can make enough money by itself, we'll cut it loose and it can run itself. And so all these things I've been telling you about, I'm not sure about the Teen Canteen, but the rest of them got to be self-supporting. So later in the 70s, 80s, they did things like run the ski club and had ski lessons. They had a summer program called July adventure and they also picked the Town House pool.

    "Did the Strawberry Festival become self-supported after it became so popular?"

    The Strawberry Festival always benefited the Wayland Junior Town House as town house was able to shed some activities and take on new ones, but they continued these. I don't' remember when the Strawberry Festival stopped, but I do know that the school fairs got bigger and bigger and eventually they combined them, back when there were just two elementary schools: Happy Hollow and Claypit. They combined it into one big fair. I have a feeling maybe the Strawberry Festival kind of became that.

    "Do you think that the Strawberry Festival epitomized the national feeling of community in America at the time, talking about the 50's?"

    Good question. There were national trends. First of all little towns that had been basically farm towns suddenly starting to be suburban. And suburban parents with children moving in who wanted a lot more services for their kids. This community spirit of people volunteering and getting things going, particularly for the community's children, I think is probably very widespread.

    "How do you think World War II impacted or influenced the Strawberry Festival or the community?"

    Well it's not a direct route, but I think the town mobilized for World War II. I'm going to show you the Bugles later. They went to a lot of work to get into the service men news from home. And they also did a lot of things: Red Cross, etc. There were a lot of civil defense jobs that the town mobilized for. But then after the war, the big, big story is how the town grew. The single decade grew almost double to its size. Most of the people moving in were young families with children, people were having lots of children those days. I can remember the high school graduating class was forty or fifty people and the first and second grades were enormous. It was all you could do to get a babysitter because they were all booked way ahead.

    "They had the Strawberry Festival to bring the community together, but do you think it was also to celebrate the end and/or outcome of the war?"

    I think if you talked to anyone in 1950, they'd tell you they were trying to raise money to provide these services for the kids. I think they enjoyed the community, they enjoyed...it was wonderful fun working together, but I think they would not have said that although it was probably true.

    "Why do you think the Strawberry Festival became so popular so fast? Because looking through the Town Criers, just from 1957 to 1959, I remember there being a huge difference in the number of those involved."

    Because there wasn't much else. When I moved to town more than fifty years ago, churches had their little groups, and there was a women's club, but there really was very little for people, so organizations...a lot of organizations got started, but I think the Wayland Junior Town House was particularly popular because people were doing it for the kids and they thought recreational needs were so important. They cared about Girl Scouts, or Daisy classes, or music lessons.

    "So was this really the big festival of the community that everyone looked forward to?"

    I would say it was the biggest thing at the time because the school fairs weren't that big at least back when I was doing it...and I don't remember when they were started. They again were fundraising for the PTO.



    Interview with Mrs. Rosalyn Kingsbury (May 2005)

    "Hello I'm Olivia Shaw, this is Kathryn Jordan and Felipe Sanchez and we are interviewing Mrs. Kingsbury today on May 25, 2005 at Wayland High School."

    "When did you start attending the Strawberry Festival in Wayland?"

    You'll have to tell me when the Strawberry Festival began!

    "I know Mrs. Davis was saying she was involved with it in 1959. She was the chairman and it was in the summer...late June?"

    Late June, yes correct. I probably started in the first year. I moved to Wayland in 1952 and there were some activities going on that interested us at that time, but it takes a while to adjust to a new town and I think that's probably about the time it started- the Strawberry Festival. It was a very big affair- a fundraiser.

    "Right. Mrs. Davis was saying for the Wayland Junior Town House and for all the recreational activities."

    Yes that's correct. The Wayland Junior Town House was the cover organization for a number of activities-children activities...and I believe it started in the late forties...1949, but we were not there until 1952.

    "My house where I live now is what the Junior Town House- the Old Parmenter House where the Stokeys used to live."

    That's very interesting. I spent a lot of happy hours in that house.

    "Yeah. One of my friend's dad who lived his whole life in Wayland said that he went to Boy Scouts in my house."

    And who was that?

    "Mr. Nick Willard. So the Strawberry Festival as Mrs. Davis said was mainly for the kids and getting things started because really before there wasn't much to do for the kids besides just Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts."

    That's correct, yes. And the Junior Town House really did a great many things. First of all, it started the first town newspaper. There was a newspaper called the Bugle that was a paper that was started so that they could send it to the soldiers in the World War II.

    "Did the Town Crier come out of that?"

    Yes, it was the Bugle and then it changed into the Town Crier

    "So did that come out of the funds from the Strawberry Festival?"

    It possibly could have...yes, yes. We were not involved right away having just moved in.

    "Did you meet a lot of interesting people being involved in the town affairs?"

    Absolutely, absolutely. The first people we met, actually, were the Stokeys.

    "What was you impression of them?"

    Oh they're wonderful. My brother and Roger Stokey were business partners-lawyers together in the same firm. And so they were the first people to call us in our new home.

    "They didn't live too close to you, so did they just hear that you were moving in and decided to call and welcome you?"

    Well my brother and he were business partners in the same firm. So he just said that we were moving and that they would come and call, which they did...immediately. Our house was new- one wall of the living room had not even been put up, it was just the studs.

    "So you moved here in '52?"

    Yes, we moved here in '52 and in the fall we wanted to get our oldest son in first grade so we just moved in to the house, which was being built.

    "What elementary school did he go to?"

    First he went to...

    "Claypit?"

    No, no because we live in Happy Hollow and so the Happy Hollow School was not built, but it was being built I believe. So they went down to the Cochituate School

    "Mrs. Davis said to ask you more about the Queens of the Strawberry Festival. She said that she thought that it was more later when they started having Queens."

    I think so. Now I'm a little hazy on when they first started.

    "I know one of the pictures was from maybe 1959."

    "Yeah it seemed like the late fifties was the first time that they had the Queens, but that's the only ones that we saw pictures of"

    Each year was a little bit different. Now my fondest memory of the Strawberry Festival was culling strawberries for hours.

    "Oh and your hands got all red for days...Mrs. Davis quoted you on this."

    Yes, yes. We all worked. The men worked very hard; My husband, and a lot of the young people to set it up and to work. There was square dancing and a variety of activities.

    "Was there live music? Did people come up with their instruments or was there a record...?"

    There could have been a record, but I doubt it. I think there was live music...guitar. I think each year it was different. There were groups that seemed to big one year and then they'd grow up and lift off and then there'd be another group.

    "It seemed to be pretty set. I know Kathryn was saying she was reading the Town Crier from the fifties and they were saying how they changed the time of the Strawberry Festival to 3:00 pm and that was such a big deal..."

    "I think it was '59 and they kept on commenting in the Town Crier about "There's a new time, it's starting earlier- it's starting at three.

    And then after the festival was over, the wrap-up article about how it went, they were saying, "New time: 3:00pm, seems to be a hit!" They seemed to make a big deal about little changes."

    Yes, well that's important, I guess about the time because then the whole family could go. It was the big thing of the spring.

    "Who did you go with when you went to the Strawberry Festival??"

    My husband and I've forgotten if we had a sitter for the little ones or whether we took them. I guess it depended on the year.

    "I know it definitely had little games for the kids and stuff, but then did it go further into the night with square dancing?"

    Yes, well the children kind of went home.

    "So it was like an all day event."

    I think it started around noon.

    "The whole town was into it, as far as Cochituate and new families?"

    Right new families were moving in all the time. When we moved in, in 1952, bought our land in '51, built it '52, I think there were only 4500 people in Wayland.

    "Yeah I think there were probably about three years and in between, I think it must have been, '57 to 1960, the popularity and attendance quadrupled...it was incredible to see the difference in the numbers. Do you have any idea why it could have become so popular so soon. Was it just because more people were hearing about it or...?"

    You mean about Wayland?

    "About the Strawberry Festival."

    Oh, oh the Strawberry Festival. I think once the population grew, the numbers attending grew at that particular fair. See the Wayland Junior Town House was the cover organization for a number of activities, not just the Strawberry Festival--skiing...

    "It had skiing?"

    They had ski lessons on Hamlon's Hill.

    "Was that in Weston?"

    No, in Wayland. They had the lessons at various places depending on whether the ski club was giving the lessons at a particular time or whether it was under the offices of the Town House.

    "In terms of the ticket sales and publicizing the event, Mrs. Davis said that it was common for people to be collecting money for various things like Red Cross in the neighborhoods and when it was time for the Strawberry Festival, people would just run around selling the tickets. Was that their way of publicizing it- just going around the neighborhood saying 'Come to the Strawberry Festival!'"

    Now that I don't remember, but everyone would buy a ticket or buy a ticket on the spot if they decided to go.

    "So they just kind of expected that the majority of the town would be there?"

    Yes, right.

    "Would you have barbecues or lunch parties before heading to the actual festival itself. Would the neighborhoods get together at all before?"

    In some neighborhoods in town, that happened, but as I remember in the beginning, I think we took the children there and then we came back later or something like that...or we were involved.

    "Do you think the Strawberry Festival really added to a sense of community?"

    Absolutely. That was one of the big things. Yes, very much.

    "Especially with the Strawberry Queen because it's kind of like town pride.

    Oh yes, well people looked forward to it."

    "Do you think it reflected the post-war life in any way? Maybe celebrating the end of the war or the unity of the community after the war?"

    I think that probably helped. I know that after we moved here in '52, it was just a population explosion. People were moving in all the time and various neighborhoods were being built up. Happy Hollow, where I live, it's between Wayland and Cochituate. We were one of the first houses in the area; in fact the roads were all dirt. And then they tarred the road in order to make a little harder surface on the dirt road... have you ever heard of a tar truck? It's a big tank truck with tar and it had very wide little holes in the pipe at the stern of the truck and streams of tar would come down on the road. And it was almost impossible to keep the kids out of the tar. Well because the edges, of course, were not covered with as must gravel as the center of the road or most of the road. So you have these edges of black tar on the road...it was awful and it was quite a while until real asphalt came in on most of the roads in the various developments. There was a development going up all over town- Davelin Road, there was a new development. Just growing, growing, growing.

    "Do you think part of the population boom in Wayland was due to...instead of Wayland being more of a rural, almost farming town, it was turning into a town geared towards suburban families?"

    Suburban, yes. I think that it really grew so fast and there was so much that needed to be done to keep up with that explosion of population...it was just a very busy place. One very good point that I ought to make, is that a very well known man named Mr. Morgan, set up zoning bylaws, which was very important in these small towns because usually they just grew farms. So he made sure that there was zoning in Wayland because he could see the boom coming. And that probably saved this from being just a hodge-podge. So that was just very helpful. In my neighborhood, the Happy Hollow Section, we could build a house, but the roof color was restricted to certain colors, the set back from the road had to be approved.

    "They told you what color you had to have your roof?"

    No they didn't say what color, but if you said you were going to have a red roof or something like that, they'd say well you can have gray or green, you know, because they really wanted these new areas, which were turning into developments, you hate to call them a development...I'll say neighborhood...we wanted them to grow properly with like houses. Now in our area it was a half-acre lot and then in the north part of Wayland, I think the lots were soon made to be acre lots. The zoning was pretty careful.

    "Do you think that because so many families were moving to Wayland because of the baby-boom and everyone just wanted to have these suburban houses...do you think that was one of the reasons why in the mid and late fifties seemed to be more geared towards children and raising children just because there was so much more of them?"

    Well, see it was after WWII and the men were home from the war and families needed came and needed a place to stay and came from the city or larger towns-Weston, Wayland, Sudbury, all grew in that time and all developed in similar ways. Now they were older towns, they weren't new towns, but they were summer communities, Weston and Wayland- some of the large, older houses were summer homes for people who lived in Boston during the year and came out in the summer. So it was really farmers and summer people and again as the population grew, small neighborhoods were started and it grew from then on.

    "And that's about when the Strawberry Festival was started because there were so many more kids and they needed some activities."

    Right. Let's see, what did we have for schools when we first came in. There was a center school, which in Wayland, which has since been torn down, which was the high school. And I think on the top floor, the junior high was there and some elementary grades. And in the Cochituate area, there was the Cochituate school because there were two schools. And earlier on, there were one-room schools.

    "I think on Bow Road there was a house that used to be an old one-room school house."

    "I understand you were a teacher."

    Yes I taught in the Junior Town House for ten years and then fifteen years in the Wayland Public Schools-kindergarten.

    "So these are little kids?"

    They were kindergarteners- aged five and up, and any nursery school or kindergarten was part of the Junior Town House activity in the Stokey House... I think they had a nursery school if I remember correctly.

    "Mrs. Davis said something about the kindergarten. First it wasn't public, right?"

    Oh no it wasn't public. The Junior Town House was a cooperative, private kindergarten until the 70's, 1970, when the state mandated public kindergartens all over the state and that's when the Junior Town House became a nursery school and there were several private nursery schools.


    Sources:

    Wayland Town Crier 1950-1960.

    Wayland Historical Society archives.

    Interview with Mrs. Joanne Davis, May 2005.

    Interview with Mrs. Rosalyn Kingsbury, May 2005.

    Hoyt and Wolfson. Wayland A-Z.


    Town Crier Article June 6, '57

    Town Crier Article

    Town Crier Article, June 23 '60

    Town Crier Article May 12, '60

    Town Crier Article June 6, '57

    Town Crier Article May, '55

    Town Crier Square Dance Article

    Town Crier Article June, 11 '59

    Town Crier Article June 16, '60

    Town Crier Article-Crowning the Queen

    Town Crier Article June 4, '59-Queen Candidates

    Town Crier Article June 9, '60

    Town Crier Article May 8, '48

    Town Crier Article June 13, '57 -Festival Sign

    The Wayland Junior Town House Sign (courtesy of the Wayland Historical Society)

    Town Crier Article May 12, '60

    Queen Nominees '64 (courtesy of the Wayland Historical Society)

    Strawberry Festival, '67 (courtesy of the Wayland Historical Society)

    Crowning the Queen of '59 (courtesy of the Wayland Historical Society)

    Strawberry Festival, '70 (courtesy of the Wayland Historical Society)

    Strawberry Festival '70 (courtesy of the Wayland Historical Society)

    Town Crier Article June, '55 -Square Dance

    Mrs. Kinsbury, '05